Ogilvy's putter proved the difference at Match Play

March, 1, 2009
03/01/09
9:22
PM ET

Geoff Ogilvy is having one heck of an early season. With all the cameras and eyes on Tiger Woods' return, Ogilvy's 2009 start is as dominant as what we've come to expect from Tiger.

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The Aussie followed up his December Australian PGA win with his fifth PGA Tour victory at the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship. On Sunday at the WGC-Accenture World Golf Championship, he notched title No. 6.

How has he been able get it done so far? Ogilvy's numbers show him racking up birdies at a torrid rate; not surprisingly, they have been set up by much-improved putting and a stronger greens-in-regulation percentage. Last week in Tucson, Ariz., Ogilvy showcased an outstanding birdie total and impressive putting display to defeat the world's finest players and take home the $1.4 million winner's check.

Coming into this week, Ogilvy led the PGA Tour in birdies per round (5.13) and percentage of holes at birdie or better (29.17). By comparison, the tour averages are 3.64 and 20.82, respectively.

Ignoring the holes that were conceded, Ogilvy was actually able to improve on his birdie numbers, averaging 5.42 birdies per round and making birdie or better at a 30.97 percent clip. He made these improvements under the duress of match play and on a championship course measuring more than 7,800 yards. In Sunday's 36-hole final, Ogilvy was 12 under through 33 holes and didn't record a single bogey.

To score this well, all parts of his game were obviously clicking on all cylinders, but it was Ogilvy's putting that separated him from the field. Just how clutch was his putter? Let's take a look at how Ogilvy's putting inside 10 feet compared to that of the other players in the final four:

Putting from 10 feet and in

Player Made/Attempts Conversion %
Geoff Ogilvy 97/102 95.10%
Stewart Cink 92/100 92.00%
Ross Fisher 83/93 89.25%
Paul Casey 96/109 88.07%
• More PGA Tour statistics

In playing 121 holes over five days, Ogilvy missed just five putts from inside 10 feet, for a 95.10 percentage. How does this compare to what has been done on the PGA Tour this year?

Finding the flat stick

Tour leader Tour avg. Ogilvy before WGC-Match Play
Aron Price -- 92.93% 86.49% 85.91%

Ogilvy's putt percentage inside 10 feet last week bested that of the tour leader in the category, and he blew past both the tour average and his own putting rate by nearly 10 percent. To further quantify this stat, Ogilvy made exactly 9.37 more putts inside 10 feet than we would have expected coming into this event. In match play, this can really wear an opponent down.

Ogilvy performed and putted under the increased pressure of match play -- and did so in what the players consider one of the most challenging putting tests they have seen in some time. In fact, there is so much undulation and subtle movement on the greens at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club that the greens were kept rolling more than two points slower on the stimpmeter for the event. Had they been the normal tour speed, the players contend, the greens would have been the most difficult on tour.

Ogilvy was able to figure them out and feasted under the pressure. For the season, Ogilvy is ranked third in putting average and has decreased his putts per round by 2.1 from last year.

The other key ingredient to Ogilvy's birdie barrage is his improved iron play and ball striking. The most notably improved stat for Ogilvy in 2009 is his greens-in-regulation percentage. After hovering around 62 percent GIR for the past three years, Ogilvy has improved to more than 70 percent this year and moved up 130 spots in the PGA Tour rankings in the category.

Green is good

Year Greens in regulation Rank
2009 70.49% 36
2008 61.89% 169
2007 62.75% 158
2006 62.94% 160

And with victories in all six of his matches this week, Ogilvy put himself atop a very impressive list for career record at the WGC-Accenture Match Play (minimum 10 matches played):

Master of match play

Player Match winning percentage Match record
Geoff Ogilvy .895 17-2
Tiger Woods .821 32-7
Henrik Stenson .800 12-3
David Toms .742 23-8

Ogilvy also joins Tiger as the only players to have won the WGC-Match Play more than once. Woods has won it three times.

Ogilvy's $3.54 million in career earnings at the event is second only to Tiger's $4.71 million. As for 2009, Ogilvy now leads the FedEx Cup standings at 1175.5, the PGA Tour money list at $2.67 million and the Race to Dubai at 1,543,168 euros.

Ogilvy began the season ranked 12th in the world, and he has moved up to fourth -- behind Tiger, Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson -- while jumping ahead of the likes of Padraig Harrington and Vijay Singh.

Tiger's return
After a welcoming first match and 3-and-2 victory over Brendan Jones, Tiger met a much tougher opponent in Round 2 in Tim Clark. The South African played nearly flawless golf, amassing six birdies and no bogies in defeating the world's No. 1 player, 4 and 2.

In postround interviews, Tiger was humble, saying he flat-out got beat. But he was encouraged by the fact he hit only two shots in two rounds that he considered bad.

Although that might be true, the numbers revealed some rust. Over two days, Tiger's iron play wasn't what we have come to expect from him: He hit only 59.4 percent of greens in regulation. In 2008, his rate was 71.4 percent.

In terms of scoring, Tiger did electrify the crowd with two first-round eagles, including a birdie-eagle start to the event. For his two matches, Tiger finished with seven birdies and two eagles.

However, he made a significantly larger number of bogeys than expected, totaling six over 32 holes. When Tiger is on his game, he totals a ratio of 2.2 birdies for every one bogey. This week, the birdie-to-bogey ratio was cut nearly in half, to 1.17.

It has been speculated that Tiger's surgery will help him significantly with accuracy off the tee. Though the sample size is very small, Tiger did improve, hitting 62.5 percent of fairways this week, compared to 57.9 percent in 2008.

This improvement came even as Woods had noticeable difficulty transferring his weight from his right side. He hasn't been able to really push against his left leg for a long time, so there may be two factors for him to overcome: the muscle memory of favoring his left leg, and the change in his movement now that he can fully transfer his weight to his left side.

The numbers show that, of the fairways missed, 77.7 percent were to the right. This would support the notion that Tiger is still staying on his right side.

Notables
• Clark has the bittersweet honor of being the highest earner on the PGA Tour without a win. Clark's career earnings total more than $12.2 million. The feather in his cap for beating Tiger last week might be the confidence boost needed to help him get off the schneid.

• This week's runner-up, Paul Casey, is the highest-ranked player without a win on the PGA Tour. Casey jumped 10 places, all the way to 13th in the world rankings, thanks to his stellar showing at the WGC-Match Play and his season-opening win at the Abu Dhabi Championship on the European Tour. With his game and work ethic, a PGA Tour win -- perhaps even a major -- should be on the horizon.

• On his way to the WGC-Match Play Final, Ogilvy had a much more difficult road than Casey, his opponent. Ogilvy took down Kevin Sutherland (ranked No. 56), Shingo Katayama (No. 41), Camilo Villegas (No. 10), Rory McIlroy (No. 17), Stewart Cink (No. 22) and Casey (No. 23). The average rank of Ogilvy's opponent was 28th compared to Casey's 43rd. Before facing Ogilvy, Casey's highest-ranked opponent was Ross Fisher at No. 38 in the world.

• Ogilvy does his best work against the best fields. Of his six PGA Tour victories, three are in WGC events, one is the 2006 U.S. Open and another is the 2009 Mercedes-Benz Championship (a winners-only field). His first PGA Tour victory came at the 2005 Chrysler Classic.

• McIlroy is going to be a force in professional golf for a long time. The 19-year-old Northern Ireland native went 3-1 in his first PGA Tour event on U.S. soil. He was knocked out by Ogilvy in the fourth round, falling 2 and 1. Ogilvy had the most birdies of any round against McIlroy, totaling eight, but the match still went 17 holes.

Send comments, suggestions and corrections to Nathan.J.Easler@espn.com.

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